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Sitting on Go--Almost

Kim Hart

Four of the biggest telecom companies spent close to three years preparing their bids for the Networx contract, the most sweeping--and most expensive--overhaul of the guts of the federal government's communication systems in history. The contract is estimated to be worth $20 billion, but could grow to as much as $68 billion over the next 10 years.

Now the winners--Verizon, AT&T and Qwest--are getting ready to play ball. (SprintNextel was left out of the deal.) But they have a lot of hoops to jump through before they can even begin bidding on projects from specific agencies. For example, they have to demonstrate how their technology works--right down to the billing process. That, in theory, is supposed to prove to the General Services Administration, which oversees the contract, that the companies can indeed do what their proposals said they can.

Over the last few weeks, each company has held elaborate "launch" events to show off their technologies to potential clients, i.e. government agencies. AT&T held their showcase event today; Verizon and Qwest each held one earlier this month. Basically, the events were the start of what the companies will be doing for the next several years: convincing agencies to abandon their old service providers and hire them to revamp their networks.

The GSA is supposed to award the second part of the contract sometime next week.

AT&T executives said they probably won't be able to start the actual work on a Networx project until August--six months after the deal was awarded. By then, executives expect to have completed all of the GSA's requirements. And the previous telecom contract, known as FTS 2001, will have expired.

Seems like a lot of steps in order to finally start the work on this highly anticipated telecommunications contract that's been three years in the making. It will be interesting to see how the transition goes.

By Kim Hart  |  May 24, 2007; 5:39 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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Does anyone know about these I.T. blogs? They seem to be sort of hidden.

anyways - My guess is that it's already doomed to failure, but it's probably a good idea to check out the 'billing' part of the plan ahead of time - that is where a lot of problems tend to crop up. Projects that are too large inevitably have lots of cost overruns and nobody ends up happy.

Posted by: Aaron | May 25, 2007 6:10 PM

Let's have a little faith in GSA, please. Networx is the third generation of 10-year multiple award contracts for telecommunications services that GSA has planned, awarded and administered. Immediately after award, FTS2000 and FTS2001 required substantial time, effort and attention to details to get all the aspects of such a large network services environment in place. This is not rocket science, but it is one of the largest wide area network ventures known to exist -- establishing and running a program like Networx, which is considerably more complex than its predecessors, requires a thoughtful start-up if is to be successful.

And let's have some faith in the buying agencies, too. Their IT/Telecommunications executives and technical professionals have been working with GSA to design the follow-on Networx contracts to meet their current and future requirements. They have actively participated in transition planning workgroups to prepare for changeover from FTS2001, and they have been working very hard for months within their own agencies to do all that is necessary to make their transitions successful.

You might also note that the federal telecommunications community of agency, industry, and GSA professionals has done all this during what has been the longest, most debilitating period of GSA's history - the FAS reorganization. They have persistently focused on the job at hand through a totally unstable GSA leadership environment: three different GSA Administrators (Perry, Deputy Administrator Bibb ACTING, and now Doan), and two interim ACTING FSS/FTS/FAS commissioners (Shelton and Wagner) pending the appointment of the third, thankfully permanent, FAS Commissioner (Williams).

In spite of the revolving door leadership (not to mention multiple contentious Congressional hearings and the unrelenting spotlight of media attention on the agency) the dedication and focus of the GSA and agency telecom and acquisition professionals has carried the program this point. The Universal contracts are awarded and as you mention, the Enterprise contract awards (what you call the "second part") are scheduled to occur very soon.

Now, the industry service providers have rolled up their sleeves to deliver on their Universal contracts. Establishing the billing infrastructure (a concern of your first commenter) is a key feature of their initial activity and has proved to be a major pain point in the past, not just for government, but throughout the telecom industry. So, no one should expect Networx to be pain free in this regard, but attempts have been made to ensure the pain is less intense and more manageable.

Let's agree now that if GSA did not take the time to get things straight at the beginning, you would surely be admonishing GSA later on for not taking time to pay attention to critical matters. As it is, we can be sure there will be something that's not quite right, and you and many others will be quick to report it and to criticize GSA to all who will listen.

I realize it is not popular for the media or the public to show a little patience and confidence in government activities, but at this critical time, how about trying just a tiny bit of faith? You can depend on GAO to continue to review GSA's plans and their execution as the Networx generation of the program gets its legs under it. Weaknesses will be identified and actions will be taken to remedy them. The Interagency Management Council of customer agencies will identify issues and work with GSA to see them through to resolution. Congressional oversight committees will schedule and hold hearings to ensure that these new contracts are being managed and administered to their satisfaction. Throughout the ramp up and transition, GSA will openly report results. The flaws will receive sometimes inordinate attention and the big successes will probably seldom be noted. But two years from now, just as with FTS2000 and FTS2001, transition will be history and the Networx environment will be in an ongoing operational mode - and I will bet that it will be offering the best solutions that industry has to offer at prices that consistently beat best commercial prices.

Many of the same hardworking professionals in industry, GSA, and the customer agencies who made FTS2001 successful are on the teams that are working the implementation of Networx. They have faced these challenges before, learned important lessons, and they will tenaciously work through all that lies ahead to set Networx on a successful path. A little faith is not an unreasonable thing to suggest.

You can probably tell that I work for GSA. I am not directly affiliated with the Networx program, but I am close enough to it to have reasons to believe in those who are. I have watched their progress and seen their commitment to excellence. For my part, I will trust in their dedication and desire for success, and I'll cheer them on from the sidelines. And when I see items and comments like what's posted in this blog, just setting the stage for the inevitable missteps and issues that are sure to come in the future, I'll weigh in with my perspective (hopefully not as lengthy as this one) to present facts that will give reasons why people should continue to just have a little faith.

Posted by: crw, Fairfax, VA | May 26, 2007 3:44 PM

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